Walls about sexual preference are coming down across America and another big one crashed to the ground Monday.
Washington Wizards center Jason Collins, a journeyman player not even assured of having a job in the NBA next season, announced that he is a homosexual, the first active player in a major American team sport to do so.
In so doing, Collins simply acknowledged who he is. It makes me wonder how miserable it must be for people who are so scared of reprisal that they live in denial or shame about their sexuality. One of the best things happening in America is the refutation of sexual bias and Collins will forever be regarded as a hero in this long-overdue movement.
Oh, there will be consequences. While this country is moving toward a greater understanding of sexual orientation, there’s a long stretch of highway still ahead. It was encouraging to see the wide range of support shown for Collins on Twitter and in other social media venues. There will be many who decry not only his decision to come public but his homosexuality.
Those of you who are preparing your jokes, though, should know that a growing number of Americans will not find them funny. In our eyes, those jokes will make you look shallow and out of touch, holding on to mores that are becoming more outdated by the day.
The sports world has been slow to come around to our changing culture. But several states have made gay marriage legal. More and more celebrities are openly gay. And now a professional basketball player has come out. And you know what? If another player is uncomfortable with that, it’s his problem.
Collins chose to announce his sexuality by writing a piece in the newest edition of “Sports Illustrated.” It’s the magazine’s cover story and Collins’ decision is called a “watershed event.”
My favorite paragraph in the well-written story is this one:
“No one wants to live in fear. I’ve always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don’t sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I’ve endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back.’’
Collins says he has braced himself for the predictable backlash.
But I’m saying there won’t be as much of one as he expects. I’m naïve that way and perhaps I’m giving people too much credit. I know homophobes still exist, but I believe they’re being replaced every day by more rational and tolerant people who believe a person’s sexual preference is a personal matter.
Some are comparing Collins’ coming out to Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier in 1947. While I appreciate the comparison, I’m not sure it’s applicable. And again, it might be because of my naïveté.
I give America credit for having advanced light years in these matters of prejudice. Robinson was scorned by many of his Brooklyn Dodgers teammates and ravaged by opposing players and fans. Yet he continued to play, continued to fight as a majority of people fought to keep him from playing.
Sixty-six years later, it’s unimaginable to me that Collins will face the same intense scrutiny. We’re better than that, aren’t we?
I believe most of us applaud Collins’ courage, while lamenting the notion that it takes such courage to make this admission. Professional team sports are, we’re lead to believe, wrought with a macho mentality that obviously makes it difficult to nearly impossible for homosexuals to admit to their coaches and teammates who they are.
That’s why the outpouring of support for Collins among his contemporaries is so encouraging. And it’s not surprising to me, either. We are a more tolerant society, even as the intolerant bang their drums loudly.
It’s not important that Collins’ decision to express his homosexuality leads to other professional athletes in team sports doing so. What’s important is that the needle continues to point more toward acceptance.
Collins is a pioneer and a historically-important figure. But notoriety isn’t what led him to this decision.
He was simply tired of living a lie to protect the feelings of others. Now he’s free.
So when somebody tells you one of the jokes about Collins — and you know they will — resist the urge to scream at them. Don’t punch them in the nose. Understand that the unenlightened among us are dwindling and a new age is dawning. The jokes will cease when no one laughs.